22003 Vitalism, Mechanism, Organicism: Fundamental Concepts in the Study of Life

Credits: 3 graduate credits in Biological Thought

Prerequisite: Admission to the graduate program in Biological Thought

This course, the last of three core courses in the program, is based on a reader edited by Simona Ginsburg, Susie Fisher and Daliah Itamar and on selections from books (primary and secondary sources) which change from semester to semester.

The aim of the course is to develop a historical perspective of the study of life. The question of what distinguishes between the organic and inanimate worlds and the positions concerning the appropriate methods and models for investigating living organisms have led, historically, to three different metaphysical outlooks: vitalistic, mechanistic and organicistic. The course pursues the transformations that occurred within western thought in the meaning of "vitalism" and "mechanism" as a result of the following cultural influences: Metaphysical world views of God, Nature and Man which molded the ways of perceiving life; Major metaphors that established the world views of different ages, influencing scientists and philosophers in their investigation of life; Scientific developments in biological research that shaped the type of explanations pertaining to organisms; The vitalist-mechanist debate and the emergence of new meanings attributed to the concepts of vitalism and mechanism.